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Just Take Him Out to the Ballgame : Baseball: Tom Werner is one of the most successful men in the TV industry, and soon he will become chairman and managing partner of the Padres. But he’s just a kid at heart.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They wanted to do something special for him. It was his 40th birthday, a time in life when a man’s supposed to let go of youth and saunter into middle-age. They decided to have a night that would kick off the rest of his life in style.

So his wife and friends racked their brains, trying to come up with the perfect party. He’s worth millions, so money was going to be no problem. They could have as elegant a party as they desired, or have the most raucous party Hollywood has seen in a while.

First of all, the size, should it be a huge party with invitations to all of Tom’s friends and acquaintances, maybe a bash for 500? No, his wife, Jill, said, Tom doesn’t like big parties.

OK, how about a small ritzy party in a ballroom at some Beverly Hills hotel? No, sorry, Jill said, Tom doesn’t like to get dressed up.

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All right, how about renting a few limousines, and just bopping around town to a restaurant, followed by a nightclub or two? No, Jill said, you know how Tom doesn’t like to make a scene in public.

Charter a plane and head for Las Vegas? Nope.

So just what kind of party did they end up throwing for this guy?

“Can you believe it,” said Paul Schulman, one of his best friends, “we ended up going to the UCLA bowling alley. We rented it out for the night, and had about 30, 35 people. We sang ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Take me out to the ballgame.’ He had the time of his life.”

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Are you insinuating that Tom Werner, the man who soon officially will become the chairman and managing partner of the Padres, the man who has made millions by being one of the most successful producers in the TV industry and helped create the Cliff Huxtable family, would actually enjoy something so hokey?

“Hey,” Schulman said, “this guy would prefer spending his Thursday nights watching a ballgame on TV than going to the Emmy Awards. You don’t see him shopping at Gucci or wearing Giorgio (Armani), hanging around with the stars, or any of that kind of stuff.

“You’d never know from talking to him about the type of wealth he has, the type of talent he has, or anything like that. He’s one of the most unpretentious men you’ll ever meet.

“That’s why you hardly ever see him attend Hollywood-type functions, because he hates them.”

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So when Werner and his nine partners are approved by Major League Baseball--which according to sources on the ownership screening committee could be within two weeks--don’t bother looking for a guy dressed in a pinstripe suit coming out of a stretch limousine.

He’ll be the guy wearing the sweatshirt, coming out of a two-year-old Ford Mustang convertible, holding a pennant in his hand.

Yes sir, if you want a baseball fan running your club, you’ve got one.

OK, so he has been a Dodger fan for the past 20 years, and was a Yankee fan growing up. Don’t hold it against him. Just wait, pretty soon he’ll be getting into that Padre spirit and hating Dodger blue.

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Just talk to the folks at Carsey-Werner Co., the top independent television production company in the industry, and they’ll tell you just how much Werner cares about the Padres. Sure, he’s still busily producing “The Cosby Show,” “Roseanne,” “A Different World” and “Grand.” And everyone will tell you how this is the busiest time of year in the business, a time in which senior executives frantically are screening pilots, with the networks just a week away from announcing their fall lineups.

So what’s Werner doing?

Sneaking away and tuning in Padre games on his short-wave radio, and acting like a school kid all over again every time the Padres win or lose.

“You should see us, we’re wearing our San Diego Padre caps in the office now,” said Marcy Carsey, 44, Werner’s partner in the company. “I never even cared about sports before. I couldn’t even tell you the names of any baseball players. But now, for the first time in my life, I’m reading the sports pages, listening to sports reports, and everything.”

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Is the Padre schedule hanging on the office wall, too?

“No, there’s no need for that,” Carsey said, “we’ve all got it memorized by now.”

Certainly, all of Werner’s friends knew just how much he adored the game of baseball. After all, the man doesn’t have a bat and glove in his closet, play on a softball team while mixing in an occasional hardball game, help coach his 14-year-old son’s Little League team, regularly attend his 11-year-old daughter’s softball games, participate in rotisserie leagues, and own Dodger season tickets for the past 10 years, without being fanatical about the game.

But it caught all of them by surprise when they found out he was planning to lead a group of 10 men willing to spend $75 million to buy the Padres from Joan Kroc.

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“I thought it was the kinkiest thing I’d heard in months,” Carsey said. “There were a lot of people trying to talk him out of it, but then again, a lot of people tried to talk us out of going off to start our own production company, too.

“Tom gave me all of the reasons on the negative side, and then he gave me all of the reasons on the positive side. My advice to him was, ‘Chance-taking is the stuff of life, and you’re rooting for the positive side, so go and do it.’ ”

Now, six months after Werner began seriously inquiring about purchasing the Padres, and six weeks after learning that Kroc had accepted his group’s offer, his lifelong dream is about to become reality.

Werner and nine partners met with Kroc and attorney Beth Benes again last Monday, and now are just waiting for the completion of financial reports to finalize the deal.

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“What I understand, everything is just fine,” said Milwaukee Brewer owner Bud Selig, who’s on the ownership screening committee. “I’d be stunned if this wasn’t approved.

“I think everybody’s really looking forward to his involvement. I haven’t met the gentleman yet, but all I keep hearing is what a wonderful guy he is.”

Werner already has begun delegating authority to members of his group, and several planning meetings have taken place, with the latest this past Wednesday, but he continues to seek input from his partners.

Werner couldn’t care less that he has invested the most money in the group--about $25 million of his net worth of an estimated $150 million--and that several of the partners have limited shares. Everyone’s an equal partner, he tells them, the only difference being that he has the final say.

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There’s nothing in his background that reveals any baseball expertise--unless you count his intramural playing days at Harvard--but those who know him say he’s quite confident in his abilities to run a major league franchise. And he doesn’t need any of Kroc’s former son-in-laws to help him.

Werner, in fact, already has decided, according to four members of the ownership group, that he will not retain Jerry Kapstein. Kapstein was in charge of the club’s operations for several months while it was being sold, but left the position three weeks ago when Kroc’s daughter, Linda Smith, filed for divorce from him.

Instead, Werner has told friends that he will retain President Dick Freeman, and does not plan to make any front-office changes for at least the remainder of this season.

Werner knows that several decisions will soon have to be made: Will Manager Jack McKeon, who assumed the role of vice president/baseball operations at Kroc’s request in December, be provided a dual contract, leave the field and become the club’s top front-office executive, or remain simply as manager? Will he attempt to sign first baseman Jack Clark, catcher Benito Santiago and second baseman Roberto Alomar to multi-year contracts, avoiding arbitration? Will he rip up outfielder Tony Gwynn’s contract, and pay him the going-market rate? Will he put beer back in the clubhouse?

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Those decisions simply will have to wait, and likely will not be made until the end of the season. In the meantime, his wife already has been to San Diego several times on several house-hunting excursions, an office is being prepared for the ownership group at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, and operating plans quietly are being made.

The hardest part now is just the wait. Werner knows he’s about to become chairman of the Padres, and he has been told to expect ratification by the major league owners at the end of the month in a conference call. But yet, he’s still not owner, and until he is, he won’t allow himself to be interviewed by reporters.

After all, it was just three years ago when it was announced the Padres were to be sold to George Argyros, and five months ago when Sid and Jenny Craig told friends that they would be the new owners.

“He just wants to be very careful right now,” said a family friend, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. “He doesn’t want to say anything that could be misconstrued. But I can’t tell you how excited he is.”

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Well, the boys in the ownership group already are getting the picture.

“It was during the last home stand when I got a call at about 9:30 one night,” said attorney Scott Wolfe, one of the partners who lives in San Diego. “It was Tom. It was 12:30 New York time, but he wanted to know what was going on in the game. I told him the score, and that we were losing. You know what? He stayed on the phone the rest of the game, and I was giving him play-by-play.

“He’s taking these games pretty hard, I know. Jill, his wife, keeps telling him, ‘Tom, there’s 162 games, you can’t win all of them.’ But I think we’re all going through the same stage right now.

“Tom’s a very intense man, very intense. We don’t want him to get a heart attack over these games.”

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It’s this same intensity, and desire to excel, however, that has helped Werner become one of the most successful businessmen in the TV industry.

It wasn’t enough, his friends say, that he graduated cum laude in 1971 from Harvard. It wasn’t enough that he began producing award-winning documentaries early in his career such as “Shirley Chisholm: Pursuing the Dream.” It wasn’t enough that he had a meteoric rise through ABC, ultimately becoming senior vice president at the network. And now, as we’re finding out, it’s not enough to be the hottest TV producer in television, who with partner Carsey, just sold syndicated Cosby reruns for a reported record price of $515 million.

No sir, Werner wants to be one of the best baseball owners in the business, too, providing the community of San Diego the National League’s version of the Oakland Athletics.

“He definitely wants that franchise to be of championship caliber,” Schulman said. “It’s definitely going to benefit with his involvement. He’s going to run it like a business, and you can see how his own business has done.

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“I know he’s a little worried with the way salaries are going up. He can live with the Jack Clarks and Joe Carters making $2 and $3 million, but what bothers him is that the average ball player is making so much money.”

Certainly, Werner’s friends say, if he just was interested in making money, he sure wouldn’t be investing in a baseball team. The Padres, according to sources, made $4.2 million last year, but because of rising salaries and escalating expenses, the Padres have estimated that a 2.5 million attendance base is needed to break even in 1990. The Padres will receive about $15.2 million in national and local broadcasting revenues, but their player payroll, according to sources, is about $17.5 million, with an overall operating budget of about $34 million.

It’s unknown just how much the new ownership group will have to pay in collusion damages, or if the purchase price requires Kroc to pay the fines. But they should receive about $12.5 million within the next two years when the National League expands by two teams.

“The biggest thing to Tom, and to all of us,” said Art Rivkin, who’ll be one of three vice-chairmans, “is to run a first-class operation and to continue to improve it. There’s a lot of civic participation involved, and we want to make it a team that this community will be proud of.

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“We think we’ll do that, and pick up where Mrs. Kroc left off.”

Yet, if not for Werner’s involvement, members of the ownership group say, they likely never would have purchased the team. The eight-member San Diego group had qualified under Kroc’s guidelines for purchasing the team, just as Werner and partner Russell Goldsmith of Los Angeles had. But if not for the link between the two groups, the club likely would be sold to Los Angeles King owner Bruce McNall, who turned down an invitation by Werner to join his group, or some other entity.

“It was a perfect match,” Wolfe said. “He was looking for a very strong local group, and a group willing to invest and share in the ownership. We were looking for a managing partner. It wasn’t necessarily the money, but nobody wanted to do this alone, without having someone designated to run it.”

Still, there was skepticism. Lots of it. It was bad enough that this guy was from Los Angeles, but being in the Hollywood business, Werner represented everything they disdain about the city.

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“Yes, there was initial concern,” said Art Engel, vice-chairman, who was the first of the San Diego group to meet Werner. “What we didn’t want to happen was absentee ownership. And we didn’t want any Hollywood flair using this as a springboard for something else.”

Said Wolfe: “Right away, we could tell he was different from the typical Hollywood type. He wasn’t showy. He wasn’t some big self-promoter. He just wasn’t what we thought he’d be. He was very down-to-earth, very honest, and very concerned about our community.

“We didn’t want to be said that we sold out to L.A., and we sure didn’t want this to be another Al Davis situation.

“By the end of our first meeting, we were in love with the guy. We couldn’t have picked anyone better.”

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In February, Wolfe approached Kapstein and Kroc, telling them that the two groups were merging. Within six weeks, they had a deal.

“The whole transaction kept Tommy pretty busy,” one friend said, “but he really wasn’t that nervous about it. If someone came in with a bid a lot larger than his, he thought, so be it, that was the way it was meant to be. He just didn’t want to lose out to someone whose offer was relatively close to his.”

The original offer, according to one of the prospective owners, was less than $60 million. Yet, although sources say Kroc and Benes were willing to accept the offer, Kapstein kept holding out for more, until they reached the $75 million purchase price--$25 million less than Kapstein originally sought.

“It’s funny, we’ve known each other about 22 years,” said Goldsmith, who’s chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Republic Pictures Corp,. and director of City National Bank, “but we never even thought something like this was possible until a couple of years ago. The more we talked about it, the more we thought it was a good idea. And when we found out that the Padres were up for sale, we thought it was perfect; a great city, a great franchise, and a National League team. It was everything we wanted.”

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Werner discussed the idea with his wife and friends for weeks, soliciting their opinions. Most of them told Werner he was crazy. Think of the headaches, they said. Think of the time. Think of the risk.

Funny, that’s exactly what his friends told him nine years ago when he left a lucrative job with ABC to join Carsey. They took second mortgages on their homes. Their office consisted of a room atop a 7-Eleven store in Westwood. Phone bills often were paid late.

They struggled at the outset, producing a series called, “Oh, Madeline,!” which soon was cancelled by ABC, and a TV movie called “Single Bars, Single Women,” which also flopped.

Then, they were introduced to Bill Cosby. He told them how he wanted to create a half-hour comedy casting himself as a janitor and his TV wife as a construction worker. Carsey and Werner said no, and proposed that Cosby be the head of an upper middle-class family, and do away with the stereotypical black family.

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They offered the show to ABC, and were turned down. “They told us comedy was dead,” Carsey said. They offered it to NBC. They took it, and in large part because of “The Cosby Show,” have become the top-rated network in the land.

Werner and Carsey since have produced “Roseanne,” “A Different World” and “Grand.” They’re all top 20 shows, with Cosby, Roseanne and Different World finishing 1-2-3 last season.

“That’s why Tom’s very confident he can make this work,” said an employee of Carsey-Werner. “He knows what kind of quality people want, and he definitely knows audiences. He knows he has a tremendous challenge, but like he always says, ‘No guts, no glory.’

“He’s already told us, he plans to make the Padres the best organization in baseball.”

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Hmm, so Werner should be one proud man standing in the owners’ box night after night?

“To tell you the truth,” Schulman said, “I can’t see him sitting up there. He’ll be down in the stands with his popcorn and coke, yelling like everyone else.”


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